Apologies once again for my tardiness - I have no excuse this time but the general day to day maintenance of life. Right, mandatory apology out of the way...
When we last checked in the Gulls had an 8 game win streak snapped in Ontario before surrendering another game on the road, taking another 2 wins at home then finally losing another 2 in very disappointing fashion.
Since then they have lost another 2 to take the losing slump to 3 games before looking to add a little spice to the recipe by calling up Austin Ortega. Since Ortega's call up the Gulls have won 2 straight at home before dropping another disappointing decision after holding a record setting 2-0 lead. They now head to Cleveland for the very first time to take on the cellar dwelling Monsters - but need to be wary of not underestimating the Columbus affiliate with such crucial points on the line.
San Diego Gulls 0 - Ontario Reign 3
In a building where Reto Berra had been so strong in previous outings (flashback to that shootout earlier in the season) and in a game where the Gulls desperately needed to emerge victorious to solidify their position near the top of the Pacific; they lost the game in the first 6 minutes. Ontario got the jump early at the 2 minute mark and potted 2 more in the following 4 minutes before Berra was mercifully chased. Kevin Boyle did his best to give his team the chance to get back in the game - turning away all 31 shots he faced but ultimately once the Reign have the lead, their systems take over and the Gulls were locked out whilst fans watching at home were forced to endure paint-dry levels of exciting hockey.
San Diego Gulls 2 - Bakersfield Condors 3 (OT)
Berra was given the chance to redeem himself but the home team again got the first strike for the opening frames only score. Nic Kerdiles tied things up just a minute into the 2nd with his 11th on the season before Bakersfield took the lead again on a turnover midway through the 3rd. Corey Tropp - emerging as the sole veteran leader of late - tied things up with less than 3 minutes left to send it to OT before the Condors got the game winner off of a rush lead by (currently called up to the Oilers) Ty Rattie - Joey Laleggia had the winner.
San Diego Gulls 2 - San Antonio Rampage 1
Needing to get out of the funk and desperate for ideas - coach Eakins called up Escondido native Austin Ortega from Utah in the hopes of providing a spark and provide it he did. Drawing a penalty on his first shift, after which Giovannie Fiore capitalised on the ensuing powerplay for his 17th of the year - Ortega was playing the point with Welinkski on the first unit. Nic Kerdiles got the eventual game winner off an easy tap in from an unselfish play made by Sam Carrick as the two of them cruised in on the prone Rampage goaltender on a 2-0. San Antonio did make it interesting by getting their own exta-man marker just before the midway point of the 2nd but Reto Berra turned aside all other (33) Rampage shots to preserve the victory.
San Diego Gulls 2 - Milwaukee Admirals 0
Another game in which the Gulls were outshot by a wide margin and their first without re-called Korbinian Holzer. San Diego capitalised on their forecheck and pressure to start. Mike Liambas opened the score when Julius Nattinens work down low lead to a rebound in front. Reto Berra took care of the rest, earning the shutout by turning aside all 37 admirals shots; Berra was well and truly back in his groove. Kalle Kossila sealed it with the empty netter from his own red line.
San Diego Gulls 2 - Bakersfield Condors 5
Then came the St Patricks Day Shocker. San Diego inexplicably opened the scoring just 17 seconds into the game; gaining the zone off the faceoff and cycling down low before feeding back to Jaycob Megna for the wrist shot from the left circle. It beat Nick Ritchies mark set in 2015-2016 as the fastest goal in Gulls history. Then just 9 seconds later, Kalle Kossila forced and obtained the puck from a turnover, wasting no time in throwing it over goaltender Laurent Brissoits shoulder. But as Gulls fans everywhere no doubt expected this one to be in the bag. It was most definitely not. Bakersfield; as coach Eakins put it post game “hung around like a bad stink” and by the end of the 2nd period, had tied things up. They then continued to apply pressure, eventually getting the go-ahead goal midway through the 3rd - Kevin Boyle tried but could not prevent the onslaught; he saw 37 shots total and made way for Reto Berra after the Condor go-ahead goal. Pretty much the only good things about this game were the 2 freakish quick goals, an Austin Ortega (?!!?) fight and those sweet and awesome St Paddys day jerseys.
Thoughts and Observations (In the form of NOFX songs)
And Now For Something Completely Similar
Over the past five games the Gulls have been outshot 182 to 148 and on the year have been tuned up 1978 to 1626. Winning 2 of their last 5 while being outshot in all but one of them is a frustratingly familiar theme. On the year they have won 21 times when being outshot, they have 32 wins on the year; meaning just 34% of their wins are coming as a result of out-shooting their opponent. Remarkably the exact same result applies to when scoring first. San Diego owe 21 of their 32 wins to scoring first. Coming from behind is not so much their thing and simple strategy would indicate that the key to winning games might be not getting outshot.
Here Comes The Neighbourhood
Since his call up Austin Ortega has been making a case to never be sent down again. The Escondido native hasn't shown up on the scoresheet as such but he has definitely returned with a new level maturity and an edge to his game. If the AHL had corsi stats I am betting he would be in the 60-70s over his last 3 games.
Mike Liambas has had an up and down year both figuratively and literally. He saw time up with the Ducks earlier in the season then suffered an injury and came back to San Diego, only just getting his game back after a long absence in recovery. He had a not so flattering piece written about him earlier in the season. Which has recently been countered by this fun bit by Gulls voice Craig Elsten. I especially liked this quote.
So take him as you will but he is providing a much needed veteran presence on the Gulls and lately is helping rookie Julius Nattinen with his game and development as a power forward.
Is pretty much the Pacific Division right now. Four teams from the Pacific will go through to the playoffs and every team in the division is above .500 with .3 win percentage separating the 4th and 5th spot. The Gulls now sit in 3rd, having surrendered 2nd place to the streaking Reign. Things are going to get VERY interesting as parent clubs are eliminated from playoff contention in the NHL too....
Everything In Moderation (Especially Moderation)
As it currently stands the Calgary Flames have been calling up more than a few of the Heats regulars such as Rasmus Anderson, Garnet Hathaway, Tanner Glass, Marek Hrivik, Mark Jankowski and Andrew Mangiapane. As such the Heat have dropped their last four games. The only Pacific opponents they have left in the season are the Barracuda - who are also struggling - and the Reign, who should make short work of them for easy points. The Gulls meanwhile have both the Reign and the division leading Roadrunners to close out the season. Meaning (as stated in a Gulls in Flight podcast recently) they REALLY need to win their upcoming games against Cleveland and Bakersfield to give themselves some breathing room if they want to avoid putting themselves in must-win situations against those tougher opponents. As it is with their parent clubs, both the Reign and the Gulls are fighting for one of those playoff spots. The Kings currently only have Trevor Lewis injured whilst the Ducks have Josh Manson and captain Ryan Getzlaf day to day. Arizona is already eliminated so the Tucson roster should see little to no change. It is the Texas / Dallas situation that could make things interesting for the other Pacific division teams. Dallas sits out of a playoff spot right but is not mathematically eliminated yet. At this point it doesnt look like they are going to make it in over St. Louis so when they are eliminated from contention they could reinforce Texas with the likes of Julius Honka, Remi Elie, Jason Dickinson and Dillon Heatherington. It is looking like Anaheim and Los Angeles get in but if either falter then the lineups for both the Gulls and Reign change significantly. The Reign could receive Adrian Kempe, Michael Amadio and Paul Ladue. Whilst the Gulls would get back Andy Welinski and Marcus Pettersson while possibly also getting Ondrej Kase.
As some college seasons are ending, the college signing and PTO agreement season begins. The Gulls picked up two new faces in the past week. Defenseman Chris Forney - a former teammate of Kevin Boyles at UMass-Lowell. The 23 year old, 6’2” 201lb blue liner had a career-high 20 points in 35 games in his senior year. The Ducks also signed forward Kiefer Sherwood to a 2 year entry level contract. The 22 year old 6’0” 185lb winger had 30 points in 36 games in his senior year at the Miami University. Based on his bio he seems to be another clutch-situations scorer. Streaky but scores in the tight situations in big games.
The Gulls have two away in Ohio against the Monsters, then home against the Condors and the Monsters again before one last shot at the Condors - then the grind of facing the Reign and Roadrunners to close out the season begins.